Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Becoming A Leader For All The Wrong Reasons

No matter what field or industry you work in, we’ve all had the experience of working for someone who was clearly not fit for the leadership role. In some cases, this was manifested in their inability to make key decisions and in the worst-case scenarios, it was like working with the boss from hell. Under these situations, it’s typical to wonder why someone who can’t effectively lead others would be given such a position. Now, thanks to two recent studies, some light has been cast on why these situations are more the rule than the exception.

In a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder among over 2 000 US employers and almost 4 000 US employees, it was revealed that 58% of managers hadn’t received any form of management training. This finding most likely explains why 26% of these same managers admitted that they weren’t ready to become a leader when they took on these management roles.

Looking at the relationship between these managers and their employees, the survey authors found that managers cited motivating their employees and managing interpersonal conflicts between co-workers as the top challenges that they have to face as leaders in their organization.

As for the employees surveyed for this study, some of the top concerns they had about their manager were a lack of regular feedback, not listening to the concerns of the employees, and a failure to follow through on what their manager said they would do.

In another study, Bradford Thomas and Scott Erker from Development Dimensions International (DDI) conducted a survey of 1 130 supervisors and first-level managers to understand how they’re overcoming the challenges they face as leaders, and what obstacles might be preventing them from succeeding in these roles.

Like the CareerBuilder study, Thomas and Ecker also found that the majority of first-time leaders had no prior management training or support – 57% of managers surveyed said they had to learn their leadership skills through the process of trial and error. This fact no doubt explains why 44% of new managers said that they didn’t know what it takes to succeed in a leadership role.

Additionally, this lack of support and guidance from senior management also has a negative impact on morale for managers who have to learn the ropes on their own. In fact, the number of managers who lost interest in being a leader was more than double among those who learned through trial and error (20%) as compared to those who had the full support of their organization’s management (9%).

Perhaps the most alarming finding, though, revolves around the reasons why employees chose to accept taking on a leadership role in their organization.

When asked why they accepted the promotion, half of those surveyed said they became managers for “greater compensation”, followed by another 39% who said they accepted the role in order to broaden their skills or seek some personal improvement. Only 23% of those surveyed said they took a management role out of a desire to “lead others”, a mere 2 percentage points ahead of those who said that “power and influence” was their reason for becoming a manager.

Consistent with other studies which have shown that money is a poor motivator over the long-term, those who accepted a managerial role for financial compensation were “57% more likely to regret the promotion than those who wanted to make a greater contribution” to their organization.

After reading the results of these two studies on how people end up in management positions, it should come as no surprise that many of us can tell a story or two about working with someone who clearly lacked the ability or skills to serve in a leadership capacity.

Fortunately, these findings are not so much a doom-and-gloom scenario for organizations as it is a wake-up call for both upper management and their employees to gain a better understanding about what’s involved in serving as a leader in today’s workplace.

While I’ve written before about how organizations can help develop future leaders within their workforce, I’d like to share these additional points on developing leadership potentials within your team which takes into consideration the findings of these two studies:

1. Promote leadership as a service role, not as a job perk or sign of prestige
If your organization is to remain competitive and thrive in today’s global marketplace, it’s critical that those you employ to oversee the efforts of your workforce understand that leadership is not about personal gains. Rather, it’s about empowering those you serve in order to ensure that everyone benefits from the shared effort.

As I’ve written about before, in today’s work environment it’s not enough for leaders to tell their team how they can accomplish a goal; they also need to demonstrate why that accomplishment matters.

2. Give clear expectations of what’s required in a leadership role
Given how the majority of new managers accept their promotions mainly for personal gains, it’s important that upper management clarify what their expectations are for employees who take on these roles within their organization.

By providing greater clarity in what will be required in these roles, employees will be more likely to view these leadership positions in terms of how it will serve their professional goals, instead of simply considering it as a means of climbing up the organizational ladder.

3. Provide coaching/mentoring to help employees transition into management roles
Considering that more than half of new managers who had no management training ended up regretting their decision to accept the promotion, it’s in the best interests of your organization to ensure that future leaders are adequately prepared for the challenges they’ll face in their new role.

4. Make efforts to ensure those you promote are effective communicators
Looking at the results of the CareerBuilder study, most of the issues cited by both managers and their direct reports revolved around failures in communication between the two parties. These findings serve to reinforce the reality that being a successful leader has less to do with one’s technical proficiency as it does with their ability to effectively communicate to their team regardless of circumstance.

There’s no question that being tapped by upper management to take on a new role as a manager in your organization is a big accomplishment. By taking appropriate measures to properly select leadership potentials, as well as providing them with ongoing support through their transition into this new role, organizations can ensure these promotions reap the benefits and future successes they’re hoping to achieve through these efforts.

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  1. On April 11th, 2011 at 10:28 AM Barbara Ling said:

    I well-remember from my days at Bell Labs and AT&T that some of the 'leaders' were promoted simply because of politics and the like. Making leadership something *earned*and *service-oriented* – what a great idea.

  2. On April 11th, 2011 at 1:33 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Barbara. Your experience with people being promoted because of internal politics mirrors one of the top concerns employees voiced in the CareerBuilder survey – almost one-quarter of the employees surveyed said that their boss "playing favorites" was one of their top concerns.

    This is a great example of how those in senior leadership positions need to recognize that they serve as the examples for others in their organization, both of how they view leadership and the subsequent interactions they have with their team. If they promote those they favour to these front-line managerial positions, it's not hard to imagine that this behaviour will be reinforced in how these new managers lead their own team.

  3. On April 11th, 2011 at 4:28 PM davidburkus said:

    I think a lot of this stems from the belief that in order to be seen as someone who is developing in their career, you have to move up. I admire companies that have found a way to make employee growth's not dependent upon being promoted.

  4. On April 11th, 2011 at 6:13 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi David,

    I think this is one of those Industrial age hold-overs that we don't discuss much in large part because we don't know what to replace it with. At the turn of the last century, there were still many businesses that employed the apprentice process, where someone would work under a master craftsman to learn the trade, with the understood goal that they would be 'promoted' to the position of journeyman, while a handful became master craftsman in their own rights.

    As organizations grew from these local manufacturers to ones that served whole nations, the model understandably stuck and to this day, we often think of professional growth in linear terms – that to grow as a professional, one has to move up out of our own versions of apprenticeship (front-line employees) into being either journeymen (manager) or master craftsman (senior leadership).

    However, the reality of today's workforce is that there are lateral opportunities for growth and development. However, for employees to feel like these are forms of recognition of their talents, as well as genuine opportunities for them to further develop their skills, will require an organization's leadership to demonstate the value of such shifts, both for the employee as well as for the organization.

  5. On April 13th, 2011 at 2:10 PM Andy Klein said:

    I'm right with these sentiments. We often see people promoted for all the wrong reasons, key among them being that they were good in the executional role below the management position. But success in one position doesn't guarantee success in the other. As we all know, management is a learned skill, so this issue can be overcome. The problem, of course, as highlighted by these studies, is that companies aren't necessarily providing the necessary support!

  6. On April 13th, 2011 at 6:07 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Spot-on, Andy. I think both sides – upper management and employees – confuse proficiency in a front-line position as being easily transferrable to management role. As a result, employees look at being offered a management role as a job perk and upper management assumes that these employees will continue to perform at the same level they did in their previous position. Now, in addition to personal shared experiences, we now have empirical proof these are costly and unproductive assumptions for both parties to make.

    Thanks Andy for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  7. On April 11th, 2011 at 6:38 PM Mary Jo Asmus said:

    My favorite suggestion of your four is #3. I really don't know how a manager, if they aren't a natural at leadership, can learn it except through good coaching or mentoring. Managing can be taught. Leadership must be learned (by most). A good coach can encourage, stretch, and hold an executive accountable to learn to lead others.

  8. On April 12th, 2011 at 10:23 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Mary Jo,

    I had a feeling you'd like my third point. It's puzzling why there's still this notion of leadership being this innate skill that people naturally have, like knowing how to breathe or blink our eyes. The reality is that so many of the things we know to do – like speaking, writing, being able to interact with others – are learned skills that we acquired by having someone teach/model it for us, along with our practicing the skill until we could do it ourselves. Ironic that we still haven't made that connection to the process of developing leaders as well.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this piece, Mary Jo. Good to see you again here on my blog.

  9. On April 14th, 2011 at 10:16 PM auroranv13 said:

    I, with all do respect disagree. I believe that you can teach a "monkey" to do many of the skills most individuals do. What you can't teach is that instinctive quality to make decisions based on abstract thought. Some are better at it than others, whether raised, inherited or learned, period. The truth is those who are instinctive intellectuals make better leaders.

  10. On April 15th, 2011 at 10:41 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Actually, I think you missed the whole point. The skills being discussed here are not to be confused with technical skills, like pushing a button and moving a lever. If that were the case, learning to become a leader would be rather effortless.

    Instead, the challenge that most newly minted leaders have comes with dealing with the soft skills that are required to be effective in this role.

    Also, our intuition to make the right decisions is not an innate trait, but rather a skill that is refined over time through our experiences and more importantly, our ability or willingness to learn from them. That's why it's not surprising that so many first-time managers who had no prior training or support struggled in the role because they lacked the experience to build any gut instincts over how to do the job.

    As such, we can't presume that people who you refer to as “instinctive intellectuals” would make good leaders because whatever instincts they currently demonstrate in their existing roles is not because of some inherited trait. Instead, it's a reflection of how their internal potential was developed and refined through guidance and experience, something which these two studies demonstrate as also being necessary toward the development of future leaders.

  11. On April 11th, 2011 at 10:11 PM Jim Matorin said:

    Show me the leadership. Sorry, thanks to today's economy, people have become tentative, inwardly focused, risk adversive, thus I am not witnessing any leadership in my industry. Interesting discussion in FLA last week, technology & information might automate business and eliminate the need for top management (a.k.a. leadership).

  12. On April 12th, 2011 at 10:35 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    For me, Jim, those conditions you speak of are exactly the reason why organizations need to re-examine their outlook on leadership as being a role that's more than simply a means for professional growth/retaining key talent and instead view it as one for people who are able to empower their teams to move past these challenges.

    As for the idea that there might be a way to automate businesses so that there's no need for top management, I find that unlikely, if not wholly undesirable. The real function of an organization's top leadership is to create a purpose or vision to define an organization's efforts. Technology might be able to streamline/improve efficiency of processes, but it can't define or foster a sense of meaningful purpose around those efforts.

    Thanks Jim for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  13. On April 12th, 2011 at 2:12 PM Susan said:

    I think some new thinking needs to be brought to the design of the organizational structures and compensation systems if this is ever going to change. For as long as promotions are the primary way to visibly reward performance, and all too often the only way to sustainably affect someone's compensation, people who have neither the desire nor skill to manage and lead will end up in positions without the skills needed to do the job. We need ways to assess value of contribution other than position in a hierarchy.

  14. On April 12th, 2011 at 5:42 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Well said, Susan. As I wrote in reply to David's comment, I can't help but think this is another vestige from the Industrial age mindset of how one grows an organization. Namely, that as someone becomes more technically proficient, they're rewarded by giving them a larger role (eg, manager) in the organization. The reality, though is that leading others is not a job perk, it's a responsibility that requires someone who is very capable of helping others to succeed because their success benefits everyone in the team.

    Personally, I'm thinking that given all the research into motivation and engagement, organizations need to recognize that after a point, it's no longer about financial compensation. Rather, it's about garnering a sense from those around you that what you contribute brings significant and meaningful value, contributions that the organization would notice if that employee wasn't giving their full efforts to the cause.

    Here's hoping studies like the ones mentioned above will get both an organization's senior management and their employees openly talking about their respective goals and what measures could be taken that would reasonably address them.

    Thanks Susan for adding your thoughts to this dicussion. As always, I appreciate the insights you bring to the table.

  15. On April 13th, 2011 at 12:00 PM Jean Latting said:

    @Susan, I believe Susan you're onto something there….Well said.

  16. On April 15th, 2011 at 6:44 AM adigaskell said:

    It's a similar picture in the UK. The government believe only 1 in 5 managers here have any kind of relevant qualification. Our own research at CMI suggests most managers get into the role by accident and don't really have the skills required to hit the ground running.

  17. On April 15th, 2011 at 10:50 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Adi for pointing out a similar finding in the UK. This just goes to show that this problem of how we select and develop new leaders is an important one that organizations are going to need to address to remain effective as competition continues to grow.

  18. On April 15th, 2011 at 7:49 AM paul54nicholas said:

    This is really stimulating stuff – thank you Tanveer and everyone. An old and sagacious leader – with decades of participation in personnel selection behind him – told me he believed that more than 50% of the time when interviewing for leadership posts the best candidate had NOT got the job. He attributed this principally to the intrusion of ego issues within the decision makers. He felt this was perhaps the single greatest cause of talent loss to organisations. Would anyone echo his sentiments?

  19. On April 15th, 2011 at 11:12 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Paul; like you I'm grateful for the quality of participation in the discussion of this topic. I'm sure many of us have worked in organizations where someone got the promotion over someone else who was more capable for the position because of ego or political issues. It's also no doubt the reason why many front-line managers are able to hold onto their positions despite their poor performances as those who promoted them would be driven to protect their egos by not admitting they made a mistake by putting this person in a position of authority.

    Naturally, these situations wreck havoc on the workplace and hinder an organization's growth potential. That's why it's important that organizations shift their thinking from viewing leadership as a perk/prestige badge and recognize it for what it's supposed to be – a role where you put the needs of others ahead of your own to ensure everyone benefits from the collective effort.

  20. On April 15th, 2011 at 10:22 AM FinallyFast.com said:

    Both the post and several of the comments on this post bring up really interesting points about Leadership, Management and promotion that I've never even considered before. The level to which being promoted is intertwined with responsibility as a manager and therefore requiring leadership ability is something I don't think most people really consider when choosing to accept a promotion, something obviously echoed in the research you highlight in your post.

    Give the research you presented I think it's great evidence for the fact that internal education to provide lower level employees with management skills would be a worthwhile investment. I know from a friend of my father that GSK holds all kinds of internal education programs meant to provide their science focused employees with basic leadership and management skills. I don't know personally if it's working for them, but I'd like to think that it is and that it's something that should become the norm rather than the exception.

  21. On April 15th, 2011 at 3:32 PM Joana said:

    It's pretty easy to see now why so many managers are bad and are simply there because they've just been in the company longer, not because they are really qualified. More companies should adopt some of your policies, it would benefit everyone. Managers and their teams.

  22. On April 15th, 2011 at 5:17 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Joana; I'm glad to see that you and others have been finding much value in the points I've shared here on how we can help better develop future leaders in our organizations.

  23. On April 15th, 2011 at 5:12 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    While it's hard to know the efficacy of their program, I'm sure it's helping to give leadership potentials within their organization a better grasp of what's involved in managing others and what areas they need to develop further to become more successful in the role.

    Glad to hear this piece, and the subsequent discussion, got you thinking more about how organizations should be approaching the development of leaders.

  24. On April 16th, 2011 at 5:44 AM delena said:

    Wow, this is totally not surprising, especially when I think of all the managers I've worked under in a corporate scenario.

    Unfortunately, it is so damaging to morale and even fosters resentment (even hatred in some places where I worked) for the company itself, and leaves employees jaded and apathetic to their own jobs

    I finally had to leave it altogether and find work in other venues because I just couldn't stand the way the corporate model and bad managers made me wish that I could get hit by a car or have some other dire accident land me in the hospital simply so I didn't have to go to work. That's not exactly healthy.

    Unfortunately, the corporate business model doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon.


  25. On April 16th, 2011 at 2:59 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Wow, Delena. Sounds like you’ve worked for one of those bosses from hell. There’s no question that people who take on leadership positions for personal or material gain are likely going to create an unproductive or worse, toxic environment for their team because they fail to appreciate that leadership is not about you – it’s about your people, about serving their needs so that they can do their jobs effectively and consequently, make the organization as a whole succeed and thrive.

    Judging from the results of these separate studies, I would have to concur with you Delana, that the general approach to developing leaders hasn’t changed. All the more reason why we need to shine the light on these issues so that organizations and their senior management can truly appreciate how much damage they are inflicting on themselves through such measures.

  26. On April 16th, 2011 at 7:19 AM steve said:

    The same is here with my boss……he simply knows to yell and abuse….

  27. On April 16th, 2011 at 5:34 PM Dorothy Dalton said:

    Tanveer – great post as usual. As individuals move through the ranks it's very common to find a lack of training for every step. To complicate things further , the newly promoted very often find themselves managing and leading their ex peers. Hardly surprising that things go adrift.

  28. On April 18th, 2011 at 10:49 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Dorothy; I think one common thread that's arising from all these comments is how both those who promote and those who are promoted are overlooking the wider implications of this action. Specifically, how this shift to management it will impact not only the person whose being promoted, but also those who they'll now be expected to lead.

    Sure, the transition can be challenging as roles and boundaries will require redefining, but if upper management provides the support and resources to their new managers, the transition is likely to be a lot less messy or difficult for everyone.

    Thanks again, Dorothy. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  29. On April 22nd, 2011 at 8:01 AM Karin Zastrow said:

    Great article – thank you to Monica Diaz for drawing my attention to it.
    My favorite part is the part about setting clear expectations. Not because it prevails in importance over the other three suggestions, but because this is so often ignored or taken for granted that it has truly become the missing link of leadership development.

  30. On April 23rd, 2011 at 11:59 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Karin and my thanks to Monica as well for drawing your attention to this.

    I think what’s happening these days is that both employers and those they promote to front-line management positions are supplanting expectations with assumptions. Namely, that employers assume that an employee’s performance within a team can easily translate into their ability to perform as the leader of that group, while employees assume that taking on a front-line managment position is more about perks and their placement in the organization than it is a dramatic shift in how they approach their role within the organization.

    By having both parties sitting down to clearly express the expectations they have for the position, instead of relying on their own assumptions, employers and those they want to promote to a leadership position will have a better understanding as to whether the role would be a good fit.

    Thanks again Karin for adding your thoughts to this discussion.

  31. On April 25th, 2011 at 5:14 AM charlene@michigan said:

    Wonderful article Tanveer! I agree with all of your points regarding developing leadership potentials, especially number 4. For me, communication is the most important issue in a team or company. A good leader does not just dictates but listens and weighs things before making a decision. Thanks for posting!

  32. On April 25th, 2011 at 11:59 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Charlene; I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Communication is definitely one of the skills that's undervalued and underused in most organizations today. Part of the problem is that we confuse information sharing with communication; that if we send out email updates or newsletters informing our employees of what's going on in the organization, we're 'communicating' we them our intentions and goals. However, true communication is one where the leaders aren't simply holding court, but instead are asking questions to understand how these measures they want to implement will impact their team, what challenges those on the front lines see arising because of these measures and sometimes ideas for an alternate route to take to achieve the same goal.

    The irony is that organizations tend to promote people based on their knowledge and expertise and yet somehow fail to appreciate the value of having the organization's management tapping into that valuable resource to get a better look at the bigger picture.

    Hopefully, studies like these will help shed more light on the value and necessity of putting such approaches into active practice in their organizations.

  33. On September 22nd, 2011 at 4:53 AM Ana said:

    I know that most of the managers are in their positions because of the financial benefits that they get.

    It's the sad truth, but it is what it is. Therefore, it might be a good thing to make the most out of the situation. Provide the financial motivation for those managers who prove themselves good as leaders, communication enablers, effective and inspirational bosses.

  34. On September 22nd, 2011 at 10:04 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Actually, I disagree, Ana with your idea of using financial incentives to motivate those who provide to be good leaders to keep at it. There's been an abundant amount of research that's been done which has shown that financial incentives are only effective for menial tasks and only over the short-term. Besides, the idea of giving bigger salaries to those who "prove themselves good as leaders" is no doubt what we see going on today. Employees know if they want the promotion to senior management, they have to show they have what it takes to direct others. And as this study showed, most people take these positions to attain that higher status and bigger pay.

    That's why I wrote that what we need to do instead is not rely on status or increased pay to encourage people to want to move into senior management positions, but instead focusing on developing those who clearly understand that leadership is about helping others to succeed and not simply the pursuit of personal gain. That way, we get people who are not only capable of being a leader, but who truly understand what it means to lead others.

  35. On September 26th, 2011 at 1:02 PM Ana said:

    I am very interested in your ideas for doing so. I'm not saying that this is the only way but this is why I feel this way:

    I believe that some of the financially driven managers can be motivated by these perks at first and that gives you the time to develop different tactics for their motivation. Their financial motifs don't necessarily mean that they are not doing a good job.

    As for the ones who are pursuing the career for the sake of helping others, this will never be a downside.

  36. On September 27th, 2011 at 11:16 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    I see what you're saying, Ana. But again, the problem is that using financial incentives to motivate managers is the wrong approach because the focus is mis-directed. By this, I mean that when organizations encourage people to go into management for financial reasons, what they're basically doing is demonstrating to the future-leader that they value them. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with that. However, what it does wrong is that it doesn't send the message that we value your ability to encourage others to succeed; a big distinction.

    Let me give you an example – let's say I've been working in a team setting and have often shown a clear ability to be creative and help bring projects on time and on budget. Obviously, I'd be a valuable employee to this organization and they certainly wouldn't want to lose me. So to show their appreciation of the value I bring, they offer me the role to lead this team I was a member of, which naturally means they will offer me a higher salary as I'm now a part of the middle-management tier.

    But what exactly are they acknowledging? They're recognizing my creative and problem-solving skills, but there's been no real evaluation of how I would function as a leader. And on my part, why would I turn down being recognized for the value of my contributions in terms of a shiny new title and increased pay? In this case, both parties are entering this new function with the wrong goals – the focus is on making me, their valued employee, happy and not on ensuring that they put in charge someone who has the ability and drive to help others be successful in their efforts.

    A smarter approach would be for organizations to find those individuals who thrive on helping others, on encouraging open communication and collaboration amongst team members and facilitating their move to a leadership position because they've already demonstrated that they're driven not simply by the size of their paycheque but by being in service of others.

    Thanks again, Ana, for building on your earlier thoughts. I appreciate your contributions to this discussion.

  37. On September 28th, 2011 at 9:59 AM Ana said:

    It is my pleasure, Tanveer, since you've made me thinking about all the possible flaws in my judgement on this topic.

    Of course 🙂 I have one more question.

    Do you think that the creative and reliable worker that has been working so hard to stay on the budget and so on…would be disappointed and a bit turned off by the fact that somebody else has been made a manager?

  38. On September 28th, 2011 at 2:39 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    It depends, Ana, on whether that person has 1) shown a genuine interest and motivation to shift from being a team player to a team leader and 2) whether that individual has demonstrated that they have what it takes to inspire, motivate, coach, and protect others from distractions/blame so that they can be successful in their efforts. I think in the case you describe what's needed instead is for this person to receive recognition from management about their contributions and in particular how those efforts have derived a benefit for the organization. The fact is most of us are not so much interested in being managers as we are in knowing that our efforts matter – for our organization, for our customers/clients and for ourselves.

    If someone is promoted over another, it should be made clear that it's not a judgement over whose contributions mattered the most; rather, it's about recognizing who has the ability, drive and passion to help others succeed and putting them in a position to do just that.

    I hope that answers your question, Ana. 🙂

  39. On September 29th, 2011 at 11:58 AM Ana said:

    I see!

    Thank you very much for clarifying this for me. To be honest, it will take me a bit to ponder on this and think of the ways you suggest.

    Thank you!

  40. On September 29th, 2011 at 12:18 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    My pleasure, Ana. Glad I could be of help with this.

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